By Amir Husain
Left-arm pace bowler Junaid Khan was a regular member of the national squad until June 2015, but since then has faced an uphill struggle to re-establish himself, mostly due to injuries and what many describe as questionable selection policies. Since 2011 when he made his debut in all three formats, the 30-year-old has played 22 Test matches, 76 ODIs and also represented Pakistan in nine T20Is.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Junaid spoke about his views on the health safety aspects of the players involved in Pakistan’s proposed tour of England, why it’s wrong to rush young fast-bowlers to the Pakistan Test side, the retirements of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz from Test cricket, how bowlers’ performances could be affected by ICC restrictions on the use of saliva and his plans for the future should he fail to make a comeback for Pakistan.
How have you kept yourself fit during this break from cricket brought on by the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Of course, the effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic has been felt around the world but the lockdown has not affected me so much as I am fortunate enough to have a gym at home. Since I live in a village and the traffic is minimal, I have been able to run on nearby roads and keep myself fit. I also have the added advantage of having my own academy in the village where I’ve been going to do some bowling practice which has helped me stay focussed and in shape.
Do you have any concerns about the safety of the players during the proposed tours of England by the West Indies and Pakistan?
People want cricket to happen again as everyone is feeling depressed due to the lack of international sport so I am sure that tours like these will be a welcome relief for many. However, as the likes of Rahul Dravid have suggested, arranging matches in even a bio-secure environment may not be that easy. For example, let’s say West Indies squad travel and train together and during a Test match, one of those players is tested positive for Covid-19, then what would be the result of that? The player may have shared the dressing room with his team-mates so all of them would be in danger of being infected, so what happens then to the match and to the tour? These are the points that need to be taken into account and it’s not simply a case of keeping the team isolated. If it was an issue of something like security, then it could be easily resolved but this is a totally different challenge and needs careful thought.
Do you feel that Pakistani players will be concerned about travelling to England for the upcoming tour?
This will not be a problem for our players. This is because our people are used to hardship and tough challenges so we will manage fine. If you look at our recent history, we have been playing domestic cricket even during times when the security situation wasn’t good in Pakistan, so we have been toughened up to face any challenge. In contrast, players from places like Australia and New Zealand are more than likely to think many times about their well-being before making a trip to England during these times.
Do you feel that the Pakistani selectors are fast-tracking youngsters to the national team too soon?
There is a huge difference between exposing an untried young bowler to a T20I compared to a Test match. The reason is that in a T20 game, bowlers are expected to be hit about so if they do go for runs, the mental impact isn’t that great. However, in a Test match, the situation is different for a young bowler and he will struggle if he doesn’t have enough First-Class experience under his belt. If we take the example of Musa Khan who debuted for Pakistan in Australia, he had hardly played any domestic games and his performance on that tour wasn’t that great, so that could affect him going forward and damage his confidence.
On top of that, a young bowler also needs guidance when he is new. If I look back at my own career, I was initially part of an experienced squad which had the likes of Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami and these bowlers were able to guide and help me when and if I was making any mistakes. In contrast, today’s Pakistan Test side, we struggle to find bowlers who have played even 30 Tests so who can a young bowler bank upon for advice? Mohammad Abbas is the senior-most bowler in the Pakistan Test side and he has just 18 matches to his name which shows the extent of the problem we are facing today.
What are your views on the retirements from Test cricket of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz?
Every player knows in his own mind about how much ability he has to play in a specific format of the game and whether he is capable of performing in that type of cricket. In Amir and Wahab’s case only they know if their bodies are up to the task of playing Tests, or not. Many of us may well think that Amir took that decision to earn more money, but the fact is that only the Almighty and the player knows what he is best capable of. Amir’s performances in Tests seemed to be in decline recently so it’s possible he listened to his body and decided to give up Tests for good, so he could do better in other formats.
Shouldn’t the selectors have opted for an experienced option like you in the Pakistan side after the retirements of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz from Tests?
I am unable to understand why the selectors will not pick experienced players like myself when that is the need of the hour. I am not claiming that I destroyed batting line-ups or took many 5fers during the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, but my bowling was good. Several players during the last domestic season praised me about the quality of my bowling. I have to admit that this has been a disheartening situation, as has been the case on many occasions during my international career, where others have been given preference, despite my experience and performances.
What are your impressions of Naseem Shah?
Naseem Shah is a wonderful bowler who is blessed with the ability to bowl with good pace. I have spoken to him in detail on many occasions and I have found him to be mentally strong and someone who understands how to bowl to different batsmen. However, I do feel that it’s too early to judge Naseem at the moment, as he is still new on the international scene and learning his trade. The same applies to Shaheen Shah Afridi who has outstanding talent. But we know that Shaheen like Naseem hasn’t spent a lot of time in international cricket and needs more time to prove himself. In the past, we have had Hassan Ali who performed well for a short period of time and is now nowhere to be seen. A good bowler is one that performs consistently for 3-4 years and only then can we judge their utility and quality. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in Pakistan where almost every year some new bowlers appear and then disappear soon afterwards. Recently we’ve had Mohammad Hasnain who was brought into the Pakistan side due to his extreme pace, but he has gradually declined as has the form of Mohammad Musa which further proves my point.
Can you explain the reason for the rapid decline of Pakistani fast-bowlers in recent times?
There are a few reasons for the issues we have with the newer bowlers and foremost is their lack of experience to help them get through the initial phases of their career. This happens because the moment a youngster shows any promise, the selectors push away experienced bowlers in the false hope that they have found new stars. Understandably, youngsters become overconfident and start believing that they know whatever is needed to succeed and stop learning which is the beginning of the end for them. The other issue with the promotion of youngsters to the national side too quickly is that they seem to be fine when they are performing well and taking wickets, but the problems come when they are out of form. Without the experience of First-class cricket to bank upon which they could have drawn upon to lift themselves in tough times, they feel lost and that leads to their demise. We have youngsters in the Pakistan side who haven’t even played 50 First-class games and it’s understandable that such players fall by the wayside when confronted with a loss of form.
How will the new ICC ruling that forbids the use of saliva to shine the ball effect bowlers?
Whilst I have read reports that not using saliva will have little or no effect on how well the bowler can perform with the ball, I do not agree with this assessment. This is because in Asian conditions, after 6 or 7 overs, the condition of the ball deteriorates so quickly that one cannot tell which is the shiny side of the ball so extra effort is needed to maintain the shine. With spinners bowling in tandem with the fast bowlers, it’s important to shine the ball constantly as the ball quickly loses its shine due to the way the spinners hold the ball in their palms, especially in Asian conditions. I do not see how without the application of saliva a bowler can perform well or get the ball to swing. This is definitely the case when bowlers like me want to reverse swing the ball in the later overs and not being able to shine one side will be a huge blow for pace-bowlers.
Do you feel aggrieved at your treatment by the national selectors?
I have played 22 Test matches and 18 of those were in Asia mostly on very flat pitches in Sri Lanka, UAE and Bangladesh, taking 5 wickets in an innings five times, yet people still criticise me. Of the recent pace bowlers to represent Pakistan excluding Mohammad Abbas, I had one of the lowest strike-rates and averages as well. On top of that, people tell me that I haven’t done so well past 2015 but then why not look at the fact that I played one game in the Asia Cup and picked 4 wickets in it against Bangladesh. Or how I was just given 2 matches on the 2017 tour of the West Indies, or why they just gave me 3 matches to play in the Champions Trophy 2017 even though I got a 5fer in a side game. So, I hardly got any matches after 2015/16 when I used to be a regular member of the side, and obviously it was tough to put in good performances without consistent chances. This isn’t just about me, it’s a wider problem. If you give a bowler enough chances and he is not able to perform then he will be the first one to admit failure. But if you give sporadic chances to a bowler, one match here or one match there, then he forgets his basics and gets desperate for wickets and loses his rhythm and consistency in the process.
Do you feel that the door is still open for your return to international cricket?
I would hope that is the case. I may have been disheartened by the current situation but not to the extent that I have stopped putting in the hard yards. In fact, I’m training harder than ever, to keep myself in contention and fit, so that I can compete with younger players for any spot in the national side, in any format.
The presence of Waqar Younis as Pakistan bowling coach must be an encouraging sign for you?
Yes, Waqar Younis knows my skills very well but If we look at many of the matches we won during Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy, it should be clear to him that I had a key role in those victories amongst the fast-bowlers. If we just go by personal relationships, then one would expect Waqar and Misbah who is the Head Coach-Chief Selector, to back me as well. However, it all depends on how well I perform in domestic cricket and how well both Waqar and Misbah support me. I suppose they will be happy to support me if I perform well and will probably not even consider me if I don’t come up to their standards.
There have been continuing rumours that you might settle down and play cricket in England?
I had some offers back in 2015 to go and play cricket in England on a permanent basis and even met selectors for some teams as well. However, I declined those offers at that point. But, in 2019 when I was discarded from the Pakistan World Cup squad, I was advised by friends to formally apply for residency in England. Whilst I have acquired the necessary paperwork for settling in England, the fact is my focus is still towards making a comeback for Pakistan.
My target is not simply to sign for an English County side and continue my life there, instead, my aim is to make a comeback for my national team. I feel that I have about 4-5 years of cricket left in me and God Forbid, if I am not able to make a comeback in the Pakistan side, then I might look for a career in politics as my family is involved in this line of work. In the last election, my father was offered a seat in the National Assembly but he declined. I would like to pursue a career in politics if I am unable to get into the national side and my interest in politics is to try and do something good for sports in the country.
The interview was first published here.